Completing a marathon can feel exciting, but no doubt, it hurts. Still, most runners choose to sign up for more. A new psychological study offers some explanation of why, by finding that some marathon runners seem to develop selective amnesia and forget what the true experience is like.
The new study was published in the journal Memory. Przemyslaw Babel, a professor of psychology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, focused on the marathon because the experience combines pain with emotions.
At the finish line of the 2012 Cracovia Marathon in Krakow, Babel asked 62 of the finishers to rate the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain they were feeling right after they finished, as well as their general emotional state.
The runners reported a moderate intensity and unpleasantness of pain at the time, averaging about a 5.5 on a scale of zero to 10.
Then either three or six months later, the same runners were asked to remember how much pain they were in after they finished the marathon.
Their memories proved quite different than how they responded three to six months previously. Most of the runners recalled the race as being much less painful than they said at the time, averaging a three on a 10-point scale.
The runners who had reported less happiness at the race’s end later remembered their pain more accurately than those who felt elated after crossing the finish line, even if their pain at the time had been about the same.
According to the study, “The results of the current study suggest that memory of pain and affect is influenced by the meaning and affective value of the pain experience. This may help us to understand why the previous research on the memory of pain were so diverse.”